The unimaginable has happened. The world’s most powerful nation will soon be lead by an erratic, politically inexperienced clown. The question that is on everybody’s mind is what this clown will actually do as president. One can only guess. Many of us think other Western countries will follow America’s example in voting populists into power. After Brexit and Trump, anything is possible. It seems nothing is able to stop the rise of the populists. If we really want to defeat populists, we have to fight them with their own weapon: populism.
Last week, Dutch politics showed off some modest fireworks. On Prinsjesdag, the government presented their financial plans for the coming year and the King summarized the current state of Dutch society. For the next two days parliament engaged in a heated debate about the budget, which functioned as a first rehearsal for the upcoming elections in March. Nothing new under the sun, I thought. What struck me, however, was the heavy use of economic ‘facts’ amongst politicians to back up their arguments. While fact-free politics is clearly reprehensible, using forecasts about the economy as facts can be just as dangerous.
The invocation of Plato in any article about Donald Trump might seem misplaced to most readers. How does one of the most brilliant philosophers of all times relate to an unqualified, opportunistic US presidential candidate? What can Plato possibly say about the current mess of American politics? Are we really so desperate that we have to fall back on philosophy? However odd, part of the public debate has turned to the ancient Greek philosopher in order to explain the unanticipated popularity of Trump – and with it the rise of populism in Europe and the US. Democracy may eventually lead to tyranny, as Plato argues, but it is even more interesting to see how he would prevent this process in the first place.
Traveling: one of the most ubiquitous activities in our lives. We book a flight to Thailand with a few clicks on a website, or jump on a train heading for Eastern Europe that leaves three times a day. Quite naturally, we know where we want to go and how to get there. Yet we rarely ask ourselves why we want to go to a particular place – or why we should go at all. This seems a fitting question for a time when our Facebook timelines (mine included) are filled with photos of beaches, mountains, and smiling faces: what is it that motivates us to travel?
Even if you wanted to, it seems you cannot get around the whole ‘Brexit’ affair. So much has been said and written about it that I felt reluctant to do so myself. We all know – one way or another – about the mess that the referendum left behind. Its aftermath has been, in one word, shocking. Though when hearing and reading about all the different reactions, one important perspective is often overlooked: the EU is undoubtably beneficial – but for whom? If it wants to prevent more member states from leaving, then politicians and policy makers need to take this question more seriously.
Only two weeks left, then I’m done. Done with my research master’s thesis, that is. This prospect forces me to think about what I want to do after graduation (officially due in September). For the past three months I’ve been busy with a couple of job applications, so far without success. This week I expanded my search to include a personal passion: China. As many of you know, I have lived and studied in China for quite some time. Working in China, then, sounds very appealing. To actually consider this path, though, I must first know what I find so interesting about the place. This is what I will try to specify here.
Yesterday evening I hosted a colloquium about the quarter-life crisis. The initiative was generated via the Soul Start-Up, a platform I’ve been setting up with a couple of friends for the past year. The aim of the evening was to talk about the quarter-life crisis and how it manifests itself, personally. During the many interesting discussions, two things became clear for me: first, your intrinsic motivation – or volition as I like to call it – largely depends on what you can do for others; and second, to better cope with a negative response from others and other kinds of disappointments we need to develop some kind of mental defensibility.